Do the math – 1967 Dodge Dart GT 383
The first year that Dodge put its big engine in a small chassis made for some excellent numbers at the drag strip. Photography by Matthew Litwin.
Muscle cars are essentially about math, plain and simple–a basic, easily measured power-to-weight ratio. Put a bigger, more powerful engine in a smaller, lighter car, properly calculate gearbox and axle ratios, and you will almost always have a faster trip down the strip.
When the Dodge Dart model was moved from an intermediate platform to a modified version of the compact–and hot-selling–Plymouth Valiant’s A-body underpinnings, it made for a better combination of weight and power, particularly when equipped with the optional 273-cu.in. V-8, as was available on the Dart GT. But it wasn’t exactly fast. So, when the design was updated for 1967, giving the model more of that folded-square, big-car style then used throughout the Chrysler Corp’s lineup, it got a big-time boost in the form of the 383-cu.in. big-block, then only previously found in larger cars.
Though the car lost any sense of the economy that it was originally built to offer, the result was the first regular production Dart to be truly competitive at the quarter-mile, and the base for more powerful 383, 440 and even 426 Hemi Darts to follow in the coming years, giving the small Dodge a solid reputation that has remained with it nearly 50 years later.
Tony Gramer, of Canton, Michigan, is one such fan of fast Mopars. Coming home from Vietnam in 1969 and flush with cash, Tony bought a new GTX in Saddle Bronze, a purchase that cemented his appreciation for all things Mopar for a lifetime, despite his working for Ford Motor Company for the next 39 years. While that GTX is–regrettably–long gone, Tony has had other Mopars.
In early 2012 while on the lookout for another car, Tony got a tip on a car that was posted as a “Find of the Day” on Hemmings.com. “A friend of mine calls me,” remembers Tony, “and I said, ‘I’m looking for another car.’ And he says, ‘Boy, did I find a rare car for you.’ It was in Wyandotte, Michigan, so I went over to take a look at it.”
The Find of the Day turned out to be a ’67 Dodge Dart GT equipped with a 383 engine, one of just 458 made that year. Though the engine was from a different ’71 Mopar of indeterminate origin, the VIN and other accompanying paperwork confirmed the car’s original status as one of just 229 such cars equipped with a TorqueFlite 727. Like many muscle car fans, Tony appreciates such low production numbers.
Dodge almost didn’t make the car for 1967, and though we may really want to know, we will likely never have a definitive answer as to why the company decided to install a big-block engine in its compact chassis. Chrysler Corporation’s goal 47 years ago was not to keep detailed and accurate records about every corporate production decision. No, they wanted to sell cars. So, we end up with two possible stories about how the ’67 Dart received a big-block engine, one much more colorful than the other.
Along with a totally redesigned body, Plymouth introduced a 383 engine option on the Barracuda Formula S for 1967, helping put Chrysler’s sportiest car on slightly better footing against the likes of 390 Mustangs, 396 Camaros and 400 Firebirds. At the start of the model year, Chrysler had decided not to put the larger V-8 in the Dart GT, the Formula S’s counterpart. Obviously, in a performance-oriented world, not all Dodge dealers were happy.
Norm Kraus, a.k.a. “Mr. Norm,” owner of Chicago’s Grand Spaulding Dodge, one of the nation’s biggest Dodge agencies at the time and quite dedicated to performance, decided to take matters into his own hands. In an interview with HMM two years ago, Mr. Norm talked about wanting Dodge to put one of its big engines into the smaller A-body: “‘What are you spotting these people a thousand pounds for?’ I said, ‘Give me a 383 in the Dart.’ The first ‘383’ came in and it was a 273. I called up Detroit and said, ‘What is with a 273?’ and they said, ‘Our engineering department said it couldn’t be done.’ So, I said, ‘I’ll get back to you.’ I called Denny in Parts and said, ‘Get a 383 out of the back and throw it in a Dart.’ That was on a Friday and on Monday morning he was done. I said, ‘Let’s go.’ It drove absolutely magnificently!” After driving the car from Chicago to Detroit, Mr. Norm says he convinced Dodge to build the car.
The conventional–and more likely–story is the easy one, though. With the 383 Barracuda already in production, Chrysler knew damn well how to install a big-block engine in an A-body chassis. Perhaps Mr. Norm lit a fire under their backsides, perhaps not, but later in the model year, in February, 1967, Dodge announced the availability of the “Charger 383” as an option on the Dart GT. Anyone who checked that box was also obligated to get the Rallye Package, option number 357, which included front disc brakes, heavy-duty torsion bars, heavy-duty rear springs, a front anti-roll bar and D70 x 14 Red Streak tires on 5.5-inch wheels, which were essentially the options that made up Plymouth’s Formula S package.
The task of fitting an A-body Mopar with a 383 included more than just shoehorning the big-block engine into the compact chassis, though that feat required some modifications to the unit-body’s K-frame to accommodate the larger block. In order to fit in the smaller chassis, the exhaust manifolds had to be redesigned to fit inside the fender wells and clear the steering shaft on the driver’s side and the torsion bar on the right side.
But Chrysler engineering re-worked the engine beyond the simple cast-iron jujitsu required to fit the more restrictive manifolds. The engineers spec’ed a similar Carter AFB carburetor as found on the bigger cars, but fitted one with a slightly reduced capacity. The ’67 A-body 383’s AFB was rated a 525 CFM, versus the B-body’s 575 CFM. Cylinder heads with smaller exhaust valves and a milder cam matched the exhaust manifold changes, and the carburetor was calibrated for the slightly lower output engine. The end result was a drop in output from the Charger’s 325 hp and 425 lb.ft. of torque to 280 hp and 400 lb.ft. in the Dart GT. Though in a car weighing several hundred pounds less than the Charger, the Dart GT’s 383 gave plenty of go power.
The lack of power steering had nothing to do with drag strip intentions and reducing parasitic losses. It was simply that the modified exhaust manifold did not leave enough space for a power-steering pump, giving all ’67 383 Dart GT owners a workout navigating parking lots. Make that a sweaty workout, as the installation of the 383 also obviated the availability of air-conditioning.
Magazine writers of the day praised the Barracuda 383 (almost identical mechanically to the Dart version), with Car and Driver testing an automatic-equipped version and calling it “one of the best of the new breed of sporty cars from Detroit. It combines two of Chrysler Corporation’s best components–the 383 and the TorqueFlite…It’s comfortable and well made.” Car and Driver’s hot shoes were able to coax 15.4-second quarter-mile times out of that Barracuda, formerly uncharted territory for an A-body Mopar.
The GT, the most stylish of the Dart line, had finally arrived as a legitimate sporting car. It had the power to compete against the likes of the Mustang and Camaro, but with styling a bit more grown up that has aged quite well over the years. Dodge made millions of Darts in that same body style between 1967 and 1976, when they finally put the nameplate on hiatus in the United States. Seemingly ubiquitous for years, Darts have gradually become somewhat scarce, and particularly so for the performance models.
Tony, a Michigan native, reports that this was one of the few ’67s he had laid eyes on, let alone such a rare model. Tony recalls: “I had never seen a ’67 in my day, so this is one of the neatest cars I have ever seen. The Turbine Bronze color really grabs you when the sun comes out. When you go to a car show, there are certain cars that catch your eye; I wanted something that was unique and different.” Mission accomplished. Just 458 Darts were built with the 383 engine in 1967, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how many remain.
Despite some Dodge advertising with big, bold letters adding up “GT + 383 = New Dart GTS,” Tony’s car wears only GT badges, a fact confirmed by the paperwork of his car. In 1968, when A-body 383s saw a bump in power to 300 hp, the model officially became the GTS. Even though the car is often called a GTS today, these early production models–made available from March 1967–are technically just Dart GTs, but small “383 Four Barrel” call outs on the fenders allude to the thundering engine under the hood.
When Tony bought his car, the advertisement made no bones that the engine was anything but a replacement for the original. In addition, the engine is topped with an Edelbrock single-plane, high-rise aluminum manifold and a Demon 750-CFM four-barrel carburetor. Fortunately, it does have the correct, unique-to-the-’67-A-body cast-iron exhaust manifolds. On top of that, the seller provided a host of spares, including the original rear end and driveshaft, TorqueFlite and correctly date-coded 383 engine–albeit with cracked heads–that very likely came out of the car originally. Tony currently has that ’67-era engine undergoing a full rebuild, including the correct-type cylinder heads, new .060-over pistons, a mild cam, some valve work, roller rockers and stock-looking aluminum Edelbrock intake and correct carburetor in order to fit the unsilenced factory air cleaner under the Dart’s flat hood.
In the couple of years that he has owned the car, Tony has had the circa-1980 enamel paint buffed out to a bright shine, fixed various bits of molding around the car and installed NOS door sill plates. He also completed some interior work, replacing some chrome components on the center console that had become pitted after so many years. He painted the lower portion of the console as well to give the otherwise original interior a like-new look. With absolutely no evidence of crash damage, the body integrity remains factory original on this roughly 60,000-mile Dart.
For Tony, his love of old Mopars–he also has a 1969 Road Runner in the garage–has become a family affair. “I worked a lot through my career,” says Tony. “I was a machine repairman by trade, and then I went back to school for manufacturing engineering for Ford. I worked a lot. So, my son and I, when he was growing up, we did not do a lot of things together. He’s actually a mechanical engineer now, and we have a father-and-son day at least once a week. And we get together and work on the cars. Both cars are father-and-son projects. I have a seven-year-old and an 11-year-old grandchild, and they are both into cars as well.”
Perhaps, when the car is finished, after the rebuilt 383 is in place and the Dart GT 383 takes its rightful place at the strip, the youngest members of Tony’s family will get the kind of math lesson no kid could turn his nose up at.
I like the color. I love the size of the car. Because of the horsepower-to-weight ratio, it’s an extremely fast car, even with the engine that’s in there today. It’s just a fun car to drive. To me, it performs well. It handles well. When I put the new tires on it, especially, it handles very well. I like the color combination with the black interior and the Turbine Bronze outside and the black top. The contrast is just really kind of cool.
It’s a solid car. I can’t find any places where it has been damaged or anything. So, the metal is original. There is no rust on the car, and, underneath, you could pick it up and it’s exactly the way it came out of the dealership. It’s absolutely perfect. I could not believe the shape this car is in. The biggest reason I like the car is that it’s unique. When I go to a car show, the draw to the car is tremendous. I’ve gotten so many compliments.–Tony Gramer (right, with son Tony)
+ Rare ’67 Dart with 383
+ Big 383 power in a small package
+ Attention getter
– No power steering
– Restricted power from the 383
– Rare and getting rarer
1967 Dodge Dart GT 383
280 Horsepower @ 4,200 RPM
400 lb. ft. torque @ 2,400 RPM
1/4-mile: 15.4 seconds @ 92 MPH*
Base price: $2,627
Price as profiled: N/A
Options on car profiled: 383-cu.in. engine, TorqueFlite 727 three-speed automatic transmission, Light Package, Rallye Package (manual front disc brakes, heavy-duty torsion bars, heavy-duty rear springs, sway bar, 14 x 5.5-inch steel wheels, D70 x 14 Red Streak tires), tinted glass, 3.23 final drive ratio, vinyl top, bucket seats, console
Type: Chrysler B-series OHV V-8; cast-iron block and cylinder heads
Displacement: 383 cubic inches
Bore x stroke: 4.25 x 3.375 inches
Compression ratio: 10.5:1
Horsepower @ RPM: 280 @ 4,200
Torque @ RPM: 400 lb.ft. @ 2,400
Valvetrain: Hydraulic valve lifters
Main bearings: 5
Fuel system: Carter AFB four-barrel rated at 525 CFM
Lubrication system: Full pressure, gear-type pump
Electrical system: 12-volt
Exhaust system: Cast-iron exhaust manifolds, dual exhaust
Type: Chrysler TorqueFlite 727 three-speed automatic
Type: Chrysler 8-3/4-inch
Ratio: 3.23:1 (currently 3.91:1)
Type: Manual recirculating ball
Turning circle: 38.7 feet
Type: Hydraulic manual
Front: 10.8-inch ventilated discs
Rear: 10 x 2-1/4-inch drums
Chassis & Body
Construction: Unit-body steel with subframe
Body style: Two-door, five-passenger hardtop
Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel drive
Front: Upper and lower control arms, longitudinal torsion bars, 0.88-inch anti-roll bar;
telescoping shock absorbers
Rear: Semi-elliptical, longitudinal leaf springs; telescoping shock absorbers
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Stamped steel with full wheel covers(currently Cragar S/S)
Front: 14 x 5.5 inches (currently 15 x 6 inches)
Rear: 14 x 5.5 inches (currently 15 x 7 inches)
Tires: D70-14 Red Streak nylon cord
Front: (currently BFGoodrich radial 215/65R15)
Rear: (currently BFGoodrich radial 235/60R15)
Weights & Measures
Wheelbase: 111.0 inches
Overall length: 195.4 inches
Overall width: 69.7 inches
Overall height: 52.8 inches
Front track: 57.4 inches
Rear track: 55.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,300 pounds (approximate)
Crankcase: 5 quarts (including filter)
Cooling system: 17 quarts
Fuel tank: 18 gallons
Transmission: 18.5 pints
Bhp per cu.in.: 0.73
Weight per bhp: 11.79 pounds
Weight per cu.in.: 8.62 pounds
Dodge produced 458 Dart GTs equipped with the 383-cu.in. four-barrel engine for 1967, of which 229 were equipped with automatic transmissions.
0-60 mph: 6.6 seconds*
1/4-mile ET: 15.4 seconds @ 92 MPH*
*Source: Car and Driver April 1967 test of a Plymouth Barracuda Formula S equipped with the 383-cu.in., 280-hp engine and three-speed TorqueFlite 727 automatic transmission.
This article originally appeared in the February, 2014 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines.